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David O’Brien is a Senior Researcher and the Assistant Research Director for Privacy and Security at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Working closely with Professors Jonathan Zittrain and Urs Gasser, he leads a number of research initiatives and teams at the Center, including the Berklett Cybersecurity project, the Privacy Tools project, and the State Attorneys General Tech Forum on Privacy and Cybersecurity. David also teaches information security law. His research interests sit at the intersections of privacy & security engineering, national security, government hacking, surveillance, and regulation & governance.

David’s work has been featured in The New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, Just Security, and numerous academic journals. He has served on expert working groups at the World Economic Forum and the East West Institute, among others. In 2016, David received the Harvard Law School Dean’s Award for Excellence for his contributions to the Berklett Cybersecurity project and as lead co-author of the acclaimed report on encryption policy, Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the “Going Dark” Debate.

He first started contributing to Berkman Klein Center’s efforts in 2009 as a research assistant to the (now retired) Citizen Media Law Project, and later in 2010 as a researcher for the Center’s independent report as part of ICANN’s first Accountability and Transparency review. In early 2011, David formally joined the Center’s research team and since then has contributed research and writing on emerging technologies, privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property, and internet governance. 

Outside of the Berkman Klein Center, David was a co-founding editor and co-host of Technically Legal, a podcast which analyzed Internet caselaw and litigation in the news. The podcast ran from 2009-2012, retiring after publishing more than 110 episodes.

Before joining the Center, David advised clients on matters involving website terms of service and privacy policies. He earned a J.D. from Northeastern University’s School of Law, where he served on the Northeastern University Law Review staff, and a B.S. in Economics & Business Administration. While in law school, David held positions in the Copyright, Trademark, New Media & Entertainment practice group at Fish & Richardson in Boston, at Inverness Medical Innovations’ in-house legal department, and with the Hon. Judith Dein at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.


Projects & Tools

AI: Global Governance and Inclusion

In a world challenged by growing domestic and international inequalities, policymakers face hard problems and difficult choices when dealing with AI systems. More

Internet Governance

A multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and extended investigation into the multi-layered system that defines the function, structure, and operation of the Internet.  More

Interoperability

In early June 2012, Urs Gasser and John Palfrey released Interoperability: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems. The book is inspired by their 2005 study and… More

Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data

This project seeks to further the tremendous value that can come from collecting, analyzing, and sharing data while more fully protecting individual privacy. More

Privacy Initiatives

The Berkman Klein Center has long been home to a number of cross-disciplinary initiatives that investigate privacy and privacy-relevant questions in the digitally networked… More

Digital Public Library of America

The DPLA empowers people to learn, grow, and contribute to a diverse and better-functioning society by maximizing public access to our shared history, culture, and knowledge. More

Cloud Computing

Led by Executive Director and Harvard Law School Professor of Practice, Urs Gasser, the Berkman Center's cloud computing initiative seeks to identify and evaluate the challenges… More

Cybersecurity Wiki

During 2010-2012, under the guidance of Professor Jack Goldsmith, the Berkman Klein Center team created a cybersecurity wiki, which houses an evolving set of more than 350… More

E-Publishing Models

With the generous support of the Revson Foundation, the E-Publishing Models Project is focused on exploring current issues associated with digital publishing business models and… More


Publications

Nov 1, 2018

Differential Privacy

A Primer for a Non-Technical Audience

This primer aims to provide a foundation that can guide future decisions when analyzing and sharing statistical data about individuals, informing individuals about the privacy… More

Aug 21, 2018

Bridging the Gap between Computer Science and Legal Approaches to Privacy

A look at the gaps that exist between how privacy risks are conceptualized between the fields of law and computer science More

Mar 12, 2018

Practical Approaches to Big Data Privacy Over Time

This article analyzes how privacy risks multiply as large quantities of personal data are collected over longer periods of time. More

Sep 26, 2016

Privacy and Open Data Research Briefing

This research briefing offers a snapshot of recent developments in the open data and privacy landscape, outlines an action map of various governance approaches to protecting… More

Sep 26, 2016

Privacy and Cybersecurity Research Briefing

This research briefing aims to translate findings from ongoing Berkman Klein Center privacy and cybersecurity research and activities into practical considerations and takeaways… More

May 31, 2016

Towards a Modern Approach to Privacy-Aware Government Data Releases

Governments are under increasing pressure to promote transparency, accountability, and innovation by making the data they hold available to the public. Because the data often… More

Mar 31, 2016

Elements of a New Ethical Framework for Big Data Research

The Berkman Center is pleased to announce the publication of a new paper from the Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data project team. In this paper, Effy Vayena, Urs Gasser,… More

Feb 1, 2016

Don't Panic: Making Progress on the "Going Dark" Debate

This report from the Berkman Center's Berklett Cybersecurity Project offers a new perspective on the "going dark" debate from the discussion, debate, and analyses of an… More

Mar 27, 2015

Integrating Approaches to Privacy Across the Research Lifecycle: When Is Information Purely Public?

This workshop report, the second in a series, identifies selected questions and explores issues around the meaning of “public” in the context of using data about individuals for… More

Aug 3, 2014

Integrating Approaches to Privacy across the Research Lifecycle: Long-term Longitudinal Studies

This paper explores interdisciplinary approaches to privacy in long-term longitudinal studies of human subjects. Long-term longitudinal studies collect, at multiple points over a… More

Mar 17, 2014

Governments and Cloud Computing: Roles, Approaches, and Policy Considerations

In this paper, Urs Gasser and David O'Brien synthesize findings from a multi-year cloud computing research initiative led by the Berkman Center in close collaboration with the… More

Jul 29, 2012

E-books in Libraries: A Briefing Document developed in preparation for a Workshop on E-Lending in Libraries

This briefing document was developed with helpful inputs from industry stakeholders and other practitioners in preparation for the “E-Books in Libraries” workshop, hosted on… More


News

Harvard Law Today
Apr 10, 2019

The Law and the Digital World

The AGTech Forum at Harvard Law gives state attorneys general a place to learn about technological changes and strategize about how the law can keep up

Insight for Attorney Generals into privacy and emerging technologies More

Wired
Jan 30, 2019

Facebook Hires Up Three of Its Biggest Privacy Critics

Through three new hires, Facebook may be giving real decisionmaking power to people who deeply understand the ways in which the social media site and its family of apps undermine… More


Community

Medium

Announcing Assembly: Disinformation

New program explores disinformation in the digital public sphere from a cybersecurity perspective

Aug 14, 2019
Mashable

Apple's iCloud could get Face ID and Touch ID support with iOS 13

Apple is testing new sign-in options for iCloud, but there are privacy concerns

Jul 7, 2019
The Boston Globe

So There Are People Behind Alexa’s Curtain. Will Anyone Care?

Making smart speakers and technologies smarter, but what about privacy?

Apr 11, 2019
USA Today

Anyone can easily hack into your phone.

Just ask Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Five tips to secure your phone - it might not keep a foreign country determined to strike away, but it will strengthen your security.

Apr 1, 2019
Just Security

A Legislative Shot at Internet of Things Security

A recently unveiled proposal for regulating the Internet of Things in the US falls short in some areas, but could make some significant strides towards advancing the status quo

Mar 19, 2019
Fast Company

What Mark Zuckerberg’s new vision could really mean for privacy and propaganda

Some critics worry the new privacy push is also a way to dodge regulation and avoid moderating content: “The devil is in the details.”

Mar 11, 2019
Annals of Internal Medicine

Are Requirements to Deposit Data in Research Repositories Compatible With the GDPR?

The requirements of the GDPR are increasingly coming into conflict with the requirements of research communities

Feb 19, 2019
Mashable

DuckDuckGo's private searches will pull up Apple Maps results

The recent partnership between privacy-focused search tool Duck Duck Go and Apple has an uncertain implications for the future of privacy on the engine.

Jan 15, 2019
Medium

Law and Adversarial Machine Learning

A survey of existing legal remedies for attacks that have been demonstrated on machine learning systems, and suggests some potential areas of exploration for machine learning…

Dec 20, 2018
Boston 25 News

Unlocking your phone’s secrets

Devices give access to those willing to pay up

David O’Brien on tools used by law enforcement to crack into suspects' personal digital devices

Nov 13, 2018
arXiv

Law and Adversarial Machine Learning

When machine learning systems fail because of adversarial manipulation, how should society expect the law to respond?

Oct 26, 2018